§ 6.50 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)
I beg to move,That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation, for the year ending on 31st March, 1967, which was laid before this House on 23rd May, be approved.Normally, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy would be asking approval for the Estimates of Greenwich Hospital, which I now do. The reason I am doing it is that my noble Friend is in the House of Lords and is not able to do that duty at this Dispatch Box. The fact that the job falls to me, however, is in no sense a burden, because everyone I know of who has at any time been connected with the Greenwich Foundation has become devoted to it.
That is certainly true of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPher-son) and the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins), who represent this House on the committee. It was especially true of my very old friend Sir John Maitland, who served on the management committee of the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook for 20 years. Although we had very different political outlooks during that time, we never had any disagreements about the merits of the Foundation, or the way that the school which it serves should work. Unfortunately, I have never had a chance until now to say a public "Thank you" to Sir John for his service, but I assure him that the management committee, the whole school and, indeed, the House are extremely grateful to him for his service.
In the corresponding debate last year, I gave an extensive review of the school. I dealt with the changes in the entry selection, with the development of the opportunities which the school was offering and with its growing achievements. There is no need this year to go over all that ground again. There is, however, need to repeat that the achievements of the school are very much dependent upon money. 525 As the House will know, we have had to increase fees several times, but the increased costs of the school have been more than double the sum derived from the increase in fees. It is, therefore, urgent, and it has been for some time, that we should take steps to increase our revenue.
It will be seen from page 2 of the Estimates that there is an increase of £28,550 in the income of the hospital. The bulk of this comes from two sources—the revenue from other property, nearly £18,000, and receipts from the Royal Hospital School of £10,000. Much of the increase in the rent from property comes from increases in office and shop rents, and it will be seen that about one-third of the extra income which comes from the other property is to be transferred to capital account. This change in the method of accounting is being introduced after discussion with the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Hon. Members will realise that office leasehold properties, in which the hospital is investing, are wasting assets, so that it would be wrong to take to income the whole of the moneys received annually from them. The purpose of this type of investment for the hospital is to secure not so much an appreciation of income, but an appreciation of the capital expended and not just its replacement in due course. Thus, on page 3 of the Estimates it will be seen that we intend to take to capital over £6,000 at the end of the year. That is to say, we do not plan to spend the whole of the increased revenue from other property.
The £10,000 increase in income in respect of the Royal Hospital School is the estimated effect of raising fees from £100 to £120 per annum. I hasten to add, for the benefit of any hon. Members who come fresh to this debate, that many parents or guardians are able to get contributions towards these fees from local education authorities, and serving naval personnel are, of course, eligible for grants from Navy Votes towards the cost of educating their children. If parents cannot afford the fees or get assistance from other sources, they are remitted either wholly or in part according to the circumstances of each case. The pledge given by my predecessors that the introduction of fees should not be allowed to cause hardship is being honoured. 526 The resulting total gross income for 1966–67 is estimated at £493,000, compared with £464,000 for 1965–66. After gross expenditure of £308,500 on the Royal Hospital School, £94,000 on pensions and allowances, and £88,500 on estate maintenance and administration, and after making modest provision for future contingencies, we are left with a balance of £2,000.
Obviously, that is not a large balance and our long-term forecast shows that even this modest surplus cannot be expected to last for long. On the best estimate we can make, the amount will move from surplus to deficit in about three years' time. Therefore, if we are to maintatin, let alone improve, the work of the hospital, it is essential to find ways of improving our income.
In these matters the hospital is fortunate in having the advice of a panel who freely give their time to our affairs. On their advice, during the current year the hospital has moved quite a large proportion of its capital into further commercial properties. I confidently predict that, with their help, we shall find next year that we have secured a further improvement of income.
To show how necessary this is, I would draw to the attention of hon. Members that we have had to find the means this year to pay for an increase of nearly £22,000 in the cost of the Royal Hospital School. This, as the hon. Member for Merton and Morden will understand, is mainly a reflection of the teachers' salary settlement last year, together with nationally negotiated wage increases. This increase in cost of the school is more than double the amount provided by the increased fees. The balance is found partly from the improved revenue from other property that I have mentioned and partly because some Greenwich Hospital pensions are expected to cost us rather less this year. What is provided for pensions and for educational grants is, on the experience of the last few years, very unlikely to prove inadequate.
On the other hand, we have made no provision for another new charge which is coming in this year, and that is the Selective Employment Tax. When this tax was first mooted, I was horrified to find that we did not qualify as a charity for exemption and it looked as though we 527 would be caught for about £12,000. Luckily, however, we have followed the technique of Lord Butler, who managed to get his dog into Trinity disguised as a cat. Somehow, we have got round it; an Amendment has been put down and we are not caught for the full force of S.E.T. But we still have to find £3,000, which will eventually be refunded—an interest-free loan to the Government. We are able to do that by postponing a number of works that we had in mind.
That is a very brief summary of the Estimates that I lay before the House. I shall listen with great interest to the points which hon. Members always make on them and I will try to deal with them later.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
I start by advancing what is, coming from me, a rather unusual proposition, because only two or three hours ago I was saying that the Government must give Parliament as much control as possible over, in that case, the Armed Forces, and arguing against the Government's attempt to remove some of that Parliamentary control.
I now have to say exactly the opposite. I am not sure that we are right, in 1966, to consume hours in this Chamber debating the affairs of the Greenwich Hospital. I say that with all respect to the hospital, for which I have the highest possible admiration. I enjoy these debates, as we all do. They give us an opportunity to talk of something we all know and like, and to make congratulatory and exploratory speeches.
We have these debates because the Greenwich Hospital Act, 1883——
§ Mr. Atkins
I think that the hon. and gallant Member will find that the debate in Parliament stems from the Act of 1883, because in the early 1880s, which was before my time, and possibly even before his, something happened in the affairs of the hospital which it was felt could be avoided by having an annual debate in Parliament.
§ Commander Pursey
We must get the facts right. There was the 1865 Act, but 528 if the hon. Member will go through the records of the House he will find that for many years before that—150 or 200 years ago, when Greenwich Hospital first started—debates took place in this House. It is not a question of the debates starting in the year he has mentioned, but long before.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am perfectly happy—if the hon. and gallant Member wants to have it as 1865, by all means let him have it——
§ Mr. Atkins
Be that as it may, we have these annual debates by Act of Parliament. That may have been all right in 1883—as I think—or in 1700—as the hon. and gallant Member thinks—but Parliament had a good deal less to do then than it has now. In fact, I would still think it right to have these debates if Parliament had little to do today, but I do not think it right in today's circumstances.
Let me give an example. The Minister spoke of the effect of the Selective Employment Tax on the finances of the hospital. By happy chance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepted an Amendment put down by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) and myself—the only Amendment, I think, that had the support of both sides—which, as the Minister says, helps the hospital in this respect. There was no time to discuss the Amendment, because when the Government brought in the Selective Employment Tax so rushed were they that they had to apply the Guillotine, and so deprive the House of an opportunity to discuss this Amendment and very many other Amendments.
That meant that we had to persuade the Government privately, by the back door, that it was a good thing to accept it when we should have been able to persuade them on the Floor of the House. Having in mind that and many other examples that I could cite, I cannot help wondering whether we should not do better discussing other matters on the Floor of the House, such as, for example, the Selective Employment Tax.
I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not present, because I know that he is eager to reform some of our procedures. 529 I suggest—and I hope that he will take note of what I say even though he is not here—that this might be one of them. It could be done in a variety of ways. We could discuss the hospital at some other time, or in some other part of the building, or we could so amend what I speak of as the 1883 Act as to make the debate permissive rather than mandatory. Alternatively, we could provide for a debate every five years instead of each year. Some reform is necessary.
I want to pay a tribute now to the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy for his long association with Greenwich Hospital and its affairs. I am delighted that he is present this evening to introduce these Estimates and to take charge of the debate. The hon. Gentleman served on the committee of management of the school for many years, he was chairman of it for a short time, and I am delighted that, at any rate in this Chamber, he is still in charge.
I echo what he said about our former colleague, Sir John Maitland, who served (he school for a great many years. It is only because he has retired that I now have the privilege of serving on the committee of management of the school. That is a great privilege, and I hope very much to be able to contribute something to the welfare of the school.
Before discussing the affairs of the school—which generally occupies most of our time in these debates—there are one or two matters that I would like the Minister to deal with later. He said that revenue from property is going up and is now contributing about two-thirds of the increased revenue of the school. He made some reference to the management of the property, but the accounts are not very specific on this subject. May I take it from him that the increased revenue does not result from the fund's acquiring a great deal more property but that the property already owned is being relet at more favourable terms; in other words, that the existing property is being so managed that the income from it has gone up? School receipts are also up, and I shall refer to that item later.
In page 4, under the heading "Property in Greenwich", there is an item of rent of buildings let to the Royal Naval College. The estimated income there is £18,950, as it was last year. One of the disadvantages of this debate is 530 that we can only compare an estimate with an estimate and not with last year's expenditure, but I know that that cannot be helped. The latest figures of actual receipts and expenditure that I can lay hands on are those for the year ended 31st March, 1965.
I find that a curious thing happened in the year 1964–65. The estimated rent of the buildings let—in the accounts the word is "lent", but that is no doubt a printer's error—to the Royal Naval College is the same as we now have before us, but the actual amount received was £23,756. Was that just a bad estimate, or what? And can we look for such an increased figure this year?
While on the subject of the property let to the Royal Naval College, can we be told how that rent is established? Can we look for an increase in it? We know the buildings well—they are very fine and magnificent—and I wonder whether they are not worth more than an estimated £18,950, a figure that seems to have been established for some time.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should clap his Greenwich Hospital hat on his head and ask the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy for a little more rent for these buildings. If he does not have any success with that conversation with himself, perhaps he could apply to the Secretary of State for Defence, who signs the accounts, for a little more for the college. The sum may be a fixed amount, but I hope that it is not fixed for too long. There is no doubt that rents generally rise, and he himself has said that the hospital needs as much money as it can get.
In page 6 of the Estimates for 1966–67 we are given the estimated cost of maintaining a boy for a year at the Royal Hospital School. In common with so many other costs, this has been steadily rising over a period and is shown for 1966–67 as £436—almost twice the maximum fee chargeable. Have comparisons been made with other boarding and fee-paying schools? If so, how does the Royal Hospital School show up in that respect?
I repeat what has been said in many of these debates, that Greenwich Hospital is extremely fortunate in its headmaster, Mr. York, and his staff for the way in 531 which they run the school and the excellent results they achieve, not just in examinations but in turning out boys. Virtually everyone will agree that this is a first-class school. The headmaster does a magnificent job, but he has certain difficulties with which to contend which other headmasters do not have. There is the vexed question, which comes up every year in these debates, of entry. Entry to the school is not just a straightforward matter, but has to take account of the charter of the school and of directions by the Ministry of Defence.
I understand that applicants are graded in order of priority according to their family circumstances from what I might call the top priority group—orphan children of seamen—through other groups, seamens' children who have only one parent alive, and children of seamen with long service or short service, until we come to the lowest group—the only group where there is a definite limit fixed on the number who may be admitted—children of officers. It was fixed some years ago and stipulates that no more than 10 per cent. of the children entered should be sons of officers.
The House may be interested to know how this is working out. This 10 per cent. figure, I think, was an inspired guess, an estimate of approximately the right number. I hope we can be told what the position is regarding the number of applicants and the number admitted. Reading last year's debate, I saw that my predecessor on the management committee said that there were four applicants for every vacancy. I do not know if this is the position today; perhaps the Minister will tell us. How does that relate to the entry of sons of officers? If in other cases there are four applicants for every vacancy but in the case of sons of officers, say, only one and a half for every vacancy, it would appear that the number of sons of officers allowed in the school is too great. I should like to know the figures so that we can see if this is good estimate.
Following from that, one of the most difficult problems which the headmaster faces is that of deciding and keeping to a particular standard of education. It was decided some time ago that the school should have two grammar streams and should become a truly comprehensive boarding school. It seems that it must 532 be the business of the headmaster who controls these entry problems to ensure as far as he can that the grammar streams are reasonably full. Otherwise, there might be a position where a very bright orphan is out on a limb without any other bright child working beside him, keeping him company and inspiring him. I think I am right in saying that the present head of the school is an orphan and there are many like him, but it is no good having boys who are admitted not only because they have brains but because they are orphans and who then find themselves out on a limb.
I think it follows with this complicated system of entry qualification, not just an educational qualification but a parental background qualification, that at some stage boys in what I call the middle category of priority must be selected for ability rather than for family circumstances. If boys were selected solely on the basis of family circumstances, the headmaster might find himself with a nearly empty grammar stream yet not be allowed to disregard entirely the family circumstances of a boy because this is laid down by the Ministry of Defence. In this respect he has a most unenviable job because, whatever he does, there will always be criticism because one boy got in and another did not. That will be put down to all manner of reasons, most of which will be wrong. I have no reason to suppose that the headmaster does his job other than most conscientiously, fairly and well.
§ Commander Pursey
We should get this right. Otherwise, perhaps quite innocently because of lack of knowledge, the hon. Member will be misleading the House and the public and this will be on record in HANSARD. I ask, is it a fact that the headmaster does not select the entries? The applications are handled by Greenwich Hospital, which does the sorting out, and then by the board of governors. It may well be that in addition a selection committee decides on the entries. From my knowledge of the school—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—the headmaster does not decide the entries and he has not the responsibility and the invidious position which the hon. Member has stated he has.
§ Mr. Atkins
I think I am right in saying from my knowledge of the school—which, I suggest, is slightly more recent 533 than that of the hon. and gallant Member—the headmaster, the board and director of Greenwich Hospital work very closely in these matters, but it cannot be denied that a great responsibility rests on the headmaster to cope with these rather unusual problems, plus the necessity to run a truly comprehensive boarding school with two grammar streams in it. I think he has a very difficult and unenviable job and that he does it extremely well.
I turn to two financial matters affecting the school. I must immediately speak about the entirely ludicrous effect of the Selective Employment Tax upon Greenwich Hospital. The Under-Secretary said that the Government accepted an Amendment to the Selective Employment Payments Bill. I am delighted that they saw sense in this respect. I wish that they had seen more sense and accepted many more Amendments. But even so Greenwich Hospital has to make a permanent interest-free loan of £3,000 to the Government. That must come out of the school, for it cannot come from anywhere else unless we are prepared to say—as no one is—that the pensions receivable by people from the funds should be reduced.
As the Minister said, it can come only by deferring some important and necessary capital project. He rather gave the House to believe that this would be quite simple because the loan would be paid back and, secondly, it only meant not buying a particular machine for another year. Surely that is far from the case. I know of no provisions for paying back this permanent loan of £3,000. It will go on as long as the Selective Employment Tax goes on. That may not be very long, but I do not think we can count on it ending soon. Secondly, it cannot be said that the matter can be dealt with by deferring the purchase of a machine next year because in the following year it would have to be deferred for another year. That would mean deferring purchasing the machine, and no doubt deferring the purchase of another machine in another year, and so on. Really, what good this does to the school or the country, I cannot understand. I only hope to goodness the Government have no more half-baked ideas like this, because they do not do anybody any good. 534 The second point I wish to make in connection with the financial matters of the school relates to fees. These were introduced some years ago, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, they now stand at a level of £120 as from the beginning of this year. It is true that in most cases the fees come either from public funds—that is to say, from naval educational allowances—or from local education authority grants or similar sources, or they come from the funds of the hospital itself. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that where parents of boys simply cannot afford to pay the fees and do not have available those public sources which he mentioned, the hospital will remit them either in part or entirely.
It will be interesting for the House to know, if the hon. Gentleman can tell us later in the debate, just how many parents of the 683 boys—I think I am right in that figure—now in the school are paying the full fees out of their own pockets. I do not believe the figure is very high, but we do not have it in the accounts and I think that it would help us better to comprehend the whole picture of the school if we knew this.
I now have a proposition which I earnestly hope the hon. Gentleman will consider favourably. It is in connection with fees. My proposition stems from the fact that the naval educational allowance available to parents who wish to send their children to boarding school still runs at the level of £210 a year for the first child and rises for subsequent children to, I think, £255 for the second and £310 for the third. Those figures may have altered, but I do not think they have. We are charging at the school £120. The Navy provide for a grant of up to £210. Since this money is available, would the hon. Gentleman consider the proposition that at the Royal Hospital School differential fees should be charged?
This is in no way a new idea, because a great many fee-paying schools throughout the country have arrangements for the parents of certain categories of children to pay reduced fees. For example, the school where I was educated has exactly that arrangement. Every parent paid a certain fee, but the mother of children whose fathers had been killed on active service paid a much lesser fee—in other words, a differential fee. 535 I wonder whether this type of arrangement could not be introduced into the Royal Hospital School to take advantage of the fact that the Service is prepared to provide for the education of the children of its employees more than we are charging them.
If we could do this, it seems to me that one could increase the income of Greenwich Hospital at no cost to Greenwich Hospital and, therefore, Greenwich Hospital's own funds for helping people who are in real need would be greater, and all of us surely want to help people in real need as much as possible.
I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to give me the answer to this tonight, but I would like him to examine this very carefully to see whether he could charge a differential fee depending on whether or not a boy's father were alive. It would have to be carefully worked out. Would the hon. Gentleman undertake to examine it, because it would be of great advantage to the boys in the school?
For over 250 years the school has made a valuable contribution to our national life in providing education for the sons of seamen. I believe, indeed, it provides as good an education as can be found in the country. In so far as we in this House can help those concerned with the school to improve it still further, I am quite certain that all of us will do so, and we wish them well.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
These annual Estimates of this two-centuries-old wealthy—I underline the word "wealthy", in view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins)—nautical charity—not naval charity—Greenwich Hospital, have provided—[Interruption.] May I have the hon. Gentleman's attention, because I am following him and I want to take up points which he made and correct him where he was wrong. He may correct me, also, but he will have a long way to go to do that These annual Estimates of this two-centuries-old, wealthy—I repeat the word "wealthy "—nautical—not naval, because it is for all old seafarers—charity, Greenwich Hospital, have provided the House of Commons for over 100 years with an opportunity of inquiring 536 into the use or misuse of its large funds, and on various occasions a Select Committee investigated wrong doings of the institution. Since the war, but for my concern, few, if any, hon. Members would have been interested in the subject and the Estimates would regularly have gone through "on the nod," as has happened in some years.
My first duty, as the senior member of the Greenwich Hospital lobby, is to welcome the hon. Member for Merton and Morden to our debate and as a member of the board of governors of the Royal Hospital, and to express the hope that he will be seized of the importance of the case of ratings' widows and orphans.
§ Commander Pursey
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish the sentence, I will gladly give way. I was expressing the hope that the hon. Gentleman would be seized of the importance of the case of ratings' widows and orphans for much better consideration by Greenwich Hospital.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for welcoming me to the management committee of the school. In welcoming me to these debates he is perhaps on slightly less safe ground. I have attended these debates every year since I have been in the House. I have spoken on many of them, and I am well acquainted with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech.
§ Commander Pursey
I thought that I was keeping this friendly. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman wishes to crab my welcome. If he counts the number of speeches he has made, he will be able to count them on one hand; so let us not dispute that any further.
My second duty is to apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). He was in the House earlier today, but has had to fly to Bonn. I hope to deal with some of his points as well as those of the hon. Member opposite, which I propose to do forthwith.
I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman made the speech which he did today, because it indicates exactly and precisely what I have said for years, which is that the object is to transfer the Navy's 537 orphanage for seamen ratings into an officers' fee-paying school. Let me take the first major point, about not using the time of the House for debates of this nature. This is quite a fair point to make. On the other hand, it is quite a fair point to argue against, and I sum it up as being absolute nonsense.
There is any amount of time lost in the House, particularly on Friday afternoons. We have the House rising at 12 noon, or 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., when this matter could be debated. It is no good trying to imply that this matter is not important, because Greenwich Hospital is a charity for the whole of serving naval ratings, the whole of ex-Service ratings, their wives, widows and children. But the same thing also applies to the whole of the Merchant Navy. It also applies to all seafarers, pilots, lifeboatmen and everyone else.
There are very few subjects dealt with in this House which cover such a vast area of people, and are of importance to this country, by virtue of the Merchant Navy, which carries our goods from port to port, and the Royal Navy, which is responsible for them all over the world in peace and in war.
I submit that the object is not to save the time of the House. The object is that there are more and more Members here, and ex-naval Members particularly on the other side of the House, who wish to avoid the scandal of this charity being ventilated, so that there will be a process of a loss of places for poor ratings' sons in order that rich officers with £3,000 a year can get their sons into this school without paying a penny from their pockets, when ratings' widows on £4 a week must go out to work and pay someone to look after their children and then have to pay fees out of their own pockets. That is the hon. Member's object.
Now I will go on and make my speech proper and take up some of these points in detail. The main subject of the debate has usually been the Royal Hospital School, which has been the Navy's orphanage for 250 years. I was educated at the old school at Greenwich 60 years ago, and spent 30 years in the Navy. Therefore, I have considerably more knowledge and experience than the hon. Member for Merton and Morden and the Minister of the history and development of the school. Moreover, my grandfather, 538 who fought in the Crimean War, was also taken care of by Greenwich Hospital.
My maiden speech was made on these Estimates 21 years ago. I was active in the cause of ratings' widows and orphans before the Minister knew anything about the school, or even where it was. I also took part in debates in the House when he was absent, even after he became a governor, which he was three years ago, and on other occasions.
I therefore suggest that the Minister should stop his personal attacks on me in these debates, particularly after the debate in the Parliamentary Labour Party this morning. For example, last year he said:I am afraid he does not listen to what is said…I might just as well not have said anything."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1965; Vol. 718, c. 571–2.]I will not comment on that now. On a previous occasion he said of me that it requiresa diamond drill to get anything intomy
What is wanted is for the Minister to answer the arguments, not sidetrack them. He has never refuted any of my quotations from official documents and figures provided by the Admiralty. What he has tried to do is to ridicule my arguments, even though they are based on facts, and ridicule my old school, which achieved as good final results as the new one.
I assure the Minister that I will not be intimidated by him and I give him this advice gratis. Do not try to teach your grandmother to suck eggs. And you can send that to the Chief Whip.
§ Commander Pursey
I beg your pardon. Sir.
Now we get on to the record. The capital assets of Greenwich Hospital as shown in these Estimates are over £4 million—no mean sum. The annual income 539 is about £½ million. Yet the hon. Member for Merton and Morden spoke of a shortage of money. Wait till I find some more.
The main objects of the charity are a limited number of pensions for retired officers and ratings and widows, and the Royal Hospital School now at Holbrook, Suffolk. The hon. Member presented a nonsensical argument about retaining these special Greenwich Hospital pensions and he talked about people in real need. Today, there are comparatively lavish naval pensions for service and for widows on the loss of their husbands and for their children.
In the same way, if the widow and orphan do not qualify, they are eligible for higher pensions from the Ministry of Social Security. There is no question at all but that with these pensions and social security there is no justification for these Greenwich Hospital pensions.
I have to put in one exclusion. There are funds which, in particular, come from Canada and which were provided for a special purpose. I would not argue that where funds have been provided for a special purpose they should necessarily be used for any other purpose. My submission today is that, if there is any question of shortage of money in Greenwich Hospital, it should not come from the school or any other place. It can be taken by letting these pensions gradually die out as the present holders die.
The scandal about this orphanage today is that what should be a free school for the sons of ratings, in particular for orphans, has been changed into a fee-paying school with one-third of the places for officers' sons, at the expense of ratings sons and especially at the expense of ratings' orphans. What is the result? At present, there is the incredible position of "brass hats" with pay of £3,000 per annum and above having their sons educated at no expense to themselves, while the widows of rating with pensions of £4 a week have to pay for their orphan sons to be educated at a school which was not only specially founded, but was over the years endowed with hundreds of thousands of pounds for just such orphans.
Moreover, the Admiralty—because the Admiralty is responsible—and Greenwich Hospital charge fees to ratings' widows with several young children, even when 540 such women are forced to go out to work because of their low income and pay another woman to look after the children. What an Admiralty! What an orphanage! What a Greenwich Hospital! What a scandal!
Will the Minister answer these simple questions? First, has an admiral's son been educated at this ratings' orphanage instead of a rating's orphan? Secondly, have captains' sons been educated there instead of orphans of Merchant Navy seamen? Thirdly, has he been responsible for charging a petty officer's widow the full amount of her Naval widow's pension for the education of her orphan son so that, in fact, she lost her pension? Fourthly, has he been responsible for charging a rating's widow with six children of school age fees at this orphanage when serving officers, and serving ratings, for that matter, paid no fees at all?
The previous Tory Front Bench spokesman on this matter, the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), interrupted me last year to remark:If what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying were exactly true it would, of course, be shocking, but is it not the case that the sort of widow he has mentioned would apply to the local education authority for a grant for the education of her child, and would almost certainly be given it—and that if she were not the Foundation itself would pay whatever proportion of the fees, or all the fees, was necessary, according to the financial circumstances of the widow? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 29th October, 1965; Vol. 718, c. 536.]Of course, that is the sort of picture that we get from the other side. It is completely false, as I shall show. This is just what one would expect to happen with this wealthy charity, but it does not. Ratings' widows in several cases are refused a local education authority grant, particularly in Scotland, and Greenwich Hospital also refuses to pay all the balance of fees necessary. The Shylock responsible for demanding the pound of flesh from these poor seamen's widows for the education of their orphan sons is the Minister. There he sits on the Front Bench, quite unperturbed about this grave failure to make proper use of this ancient, wealthy, nautical charity.
Last year the Minister took considerable pains to try to prove—without success—that the school was never considered to be an orphanage. Why he should wish to do this is never clear. 541 Certainly, for some years after the war, hon. Members on both sides of the House discussed it as an orphanage, and it is only since it became a "posh" fee-paying school for officers' sons that the Admiralty has wished to disown it as the Navy's orphanage for ratings' sons, and apparently that is what the hon. Member for Merton and Morden wishes to do.
The position is crystal clear from the original charter, a plaque on the old school at Greenwich, and the regulations of the new school at Holbrook until as recently as 1949, that is, for over 200 years and until only 17 years ago. The original, charter of 1694 said that one object of the Greenwich Hospital was…the maintenance and education of the children of seamen happening to be slain or disabled in such sea service…That applied to both the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy.
The Minister argued last year:Specifically, the charter refers to the children of seamen who are disabled and not to orphans".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1965; Vol. 718, c. 520.]Cannot the Minister read, or has he bifocal glasses that do not get in complete sentences? In the law courts this would be referred to as an attempt to falsify the facts. The charter specifically refers first—and I again quote—to…the children of seamen happening to be slain…What are they but orphans? Orphans have had the first claim throughout and even the Minister contends that it is still so today. He cannot have the argument both ways.
Furthermore, as recently as five years ago a plaque was unveiled at the old school at Greenwich as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of its foundation. An Admiralty Press statement gave the inscription on the plaque:Royal Hospital School.The buildings now forming the East and West wings of this National Maritime Museum were begun in 1807 to accommodate the Naval Orphanage founded in 1798. The Greenwich Hospital School established in 1712 for the sons of seamen was joined to this in 1821 to form the Royal Hospital School which remained there until 1933, when it was moved to its present home at Holbrook in Suffolk.Does the Minister now accept the statement in the Admiralty document and the plaque that the school was an orphanage? 542 He says nothing, and silence gives consent.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
What is to happen if, fortunately, there are not many children whose parents happen to be slain in naval service because, fortunately, there are no wars? Is the school to remain empty?
§ Commander Pursey
That is a very clever debating point. It is so clever as to be completely ignored. I know better than anyone else that last year the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned that if these boys could not get there they would not be in the old orphanages. The position today is that they are in the poorer orphanages, and it is not only a question of fathers killed in battle. The school was still getting a large number of orphans right up to the time the old school left Greenwich, and there is still a considerable number of orphans. I do not argue that all these places should be restricted to orphans but that the orphans should have first consideration, because that was the object for the school's institution and for the funds that have been paid since.
The regulations are the one factor the Minister cannot twist to suit his argument or brush under the carpet. For over a century at the old school and for 16 or more years at Holbrook there were seven classes of entry—this may interest the hon. Member for Merton and Morden. The first four were the various categories of orphans, namely: (1) both parents dead; (2) father killed on duty; (3) father died, mother living; (4) mother died, father living. What further proof would be required for a court to rule that the School was primarily intended to be, and still is, an orphanage? Does the Minister accept that these were the school regulations until 1949 and later, in other words until after he was on the board of governors? Again, no answer, so we must accept that the Minister now agrees that the school was primarily intended to be, and still is, a nautical orphanage.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden made a point about difficulty of selection. There has never been any difficulty in selecting the boys for entry into an orphanage. The intention was that the orphanage should provide education for entry on the lower deck, although I do not say that a good boy should not be able to get in on the quarter deck. But 543 the problem arises only when one starts to turn it into a posh fee-paying school, and one wants to select the boys by virtue of ability, when in point of fact it was founded, and the money has been contributed in large sums, for disability of the parent. There is no difficulty about it at all.
The school at Greenwich provided free education and maintenance for 1,000 boys. The new school at Holbrook was planned for an increase of 120 to 1,120, but although there was a free 850-acre site and the school cost over £1 million to build, it has never been completed, because two of the hostels planned have never been built.
The hon. Gentleman says that the school is short of money. The trouble is that it has always been "lousy" with money and has spent it on the wrong things. A large sum of money was spent on a vast church and a vast organ. The organ is as big as the ones in Odeon cinemas, and the only person who can play the thing properly is the organist of Westminster Abbey. The consequence is that on Sunday, when the ordinary schoolmaster goes up to play it, he switches off all the instruments on the dashboard and plays it as a harmonium. This is where the money has gone. There is the largest swimming pool in the country at Holbrook. The place has got the largest overheads imaginable. Of course it has; it was built for 1,120 and has only half that number.
The place had not been in existence for more than a few years when the organisation was changed from a company system with petty officers to a master system, and then the new buildings had to be rebuilt to suit the new system. That is where more of the money went. If anyone wants to check that, there is the Report of the Select Committee of the House which investigated it.
Holbrook is claimed to be a good school. So it ought to be at that extravagant price. I have never said that it is not, and I have never criticised the staff or the education. Nor have I argued, as the Minister and others have claimed, that the curriculum up to 1949 should have been continued. I am in favour of improved education, but for the right class of boy, for the sons of poor seamen and widows, for the boys for whom it was 544 intended and for whom it was run for two centuries.
My main argument is that the boys for whom the school was founded, namely, the sons of poor ratings, and particularly orphans, are being kept out by the Admiralty in order to enter more sons of comparatively wealthy officers and to obtain the full fees from the naval education funds.
The decision to enter commissioned officers' sons, cadet entry as well as lower deck entry, was made as recently as 1949. The reason given was shortage of candidates, but this arose because the Admiralty failed to make the school known and to ensure that applications came for ratings' sons. Today, as has been said, three out of every four candidates are rejected, so that more officer's sons can be entered at the expense of ratings' sons and orphans.
Last year, the Minister attempted to justify the entry of officers' sons on the argument that the term "seamen", in the original charter, did not mean ratings only, but included officers. What nonsense. This argument provided the biggest laugh on the lower deck since the General Election of 1910, when the Liberal candidate at Portsmouth said that he was in favour of providing ladders for ratings to get into their hammocks, though he did not say where they would stow 1,000 ladders in the ship.
Everyone knows that, throughout the ages, separate terms have always been used for officers and seamen—very often other terms, too, which I cannot mention tonight. Moreover, I have a Greenwich Hospital reference which states:Down to 1850"—that is, for over 150 years—warrant officers who desired to enjoy the benefits of the Hospital were compelled to abrogate their rank and enter as seamen only.Does that convince the Minister that "seamen" meant, and was intended to mean, ratings only? No answer. He is stumped again—middle stump.
The Minister called in aid of his nonsense that "seamen" meant officers the fact that Admiral Cochrane, over a century ago, called his life story, "The Autobiography of a Seaman". So what? After the First World War, a naval officer wrote a book with the title, "The Narrative of a Naval Nobody". Does 545 that make all naval officers nobodies? How stupid can a Minister get in trying to prove a petty point which he must know is wrong? The Minister himself wrote a book on his limited Second World War experience and gave it the title, "Very Ordinary Seaman". Does that make all seamen ordinary? Of course not. I was not an ordinary seaman. My service certificate records that I was a very good able seaman and recommended for accelerated promotion.
What has been the position at Holbrook since 1949? Here I can provide some information for the hon. Member for Merton and Morden. Over 500 commissioned officers' sons have been entered, to the exclusion of 500 ratings' sons and orphans since 1949. Obviously, every place taken by an officer's son is one less for a rating's son. The hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South, who was in his place just now, argued recently:Those who are unfortunately left out will not…be educated at some of the very poor establishments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October. 1965; Vol. 718, c. 528.]The hon. Member is wrong again. That is just what does happen.
Many of the orphaned sons of naval and merchant service ratings, fishermen and lifeboatmen, all of whom are entitled to entry at this Royal Hospital School, are in the lesser orphanages, including Dr. Barnardo's Homes. This is another scandalous feature of the situation today. In saying that, I am not disparaging Dr. Barnardo's Homes, but these sons of naval ratings, and particularly orphans, deserve to be in this better school.
When I argue that officers' sons should not be there, that is no attack on officers' sons as such. They can get their full educational allowance to go into any school in the country. Why should they want to be in the ratings' and orphans' school? Moreover, if it is a question of serving officers or serving ratings, or ex-Service officers or ex-Service ratings, being in difficulty, they can get funds from Greenwich Hospital to go into any other school. So the position is that officers have got a right of entry into any school in the country, with naval education fund grant; but, in spite of that, they want to get their sons into this school at the expense of ratings' sons and orphans.
What is the present position at the school? The hon. Gentleman wanted 546 some figures. The total number of boys last term was 694, less than two-thirds the number who should be there. That number includes 79 sons of direct entry officers, 157 sons of officers commissioned from the lower deck, and only 458 sons of ratings. So the number of sons of ratings is less than half the number at Greenwich and the number for which Holbrook was originally planned.
The number of orphans is only 84. Will anyone try to tell me that there are only 84 suitable orphans from the whole of the Mercantile Marine, from all the seafarers and all the Navy? It is complete nonsense. That number of 84 is less than one in eight, though the majority should be orphans, and it includes orphans of direct entry officers, 13, of commissioned officers from the lower deck, 7, and of ratings only 64—or less than one in 10 in the total number at the school.
The number of new entries last term was only 24, including 15 sons of ratings, 8 sons of commissioned officers from the lower deck, and one son of a direct entry officer. Eight, or only one-third, were orphans, including orphans of ratings, 6, of lower deck officers, one, of direct entry officers, one.
Why was the entry so low, and why was the number of officers' sons so high? Last year, there was an entry of 36, with only 3 officers' sons and 33 ratings' sons, instead of the current number of 24 entries. Under a Labour Government and Minister, when the position of ratings should be improved, matters are getting worse.
What is the number of applications and rejections? Last year, there was a term with 82 applications and 46 rejections. Over 50 per cent. were refused. No application failed on medical or interview grounds. The education examination was the stumbling block and a number of the boys' headmasters considered the standard too high for a boy at 10 to 11 years of age. In other words, the school would have refused Nelson.
Among the ratings' sons refused entry was the son of a petty officer. The boy had a fine record at work and play and excellent conduct. Another reject was the son of a leading seaman who has made the Navy his career. Another boy in the same school was also refused. The headmasters concerned consider that all these 547 boys should without doubt have been entered in the school. But this sort of boy stands no chance against the sons of officers who have been specially primed for entry. Cut out the officers' sons, and the ratings' sons and orphans who are now rejected would be accepted.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden argued for differential fees. Does not he know that there are differential fees now? To find out the fees, one needs a slide rule, because there are about 99 different types. It is a disgraceful position. Fees were not introduced until 1957—only nine years ago. The fee is £120 per annum and the hon. Member argued for a larger fee. Let us be clear about this, because, obviously, that is not the full figure.
There should be no fee at all. Everyone tries to get it reimbursed in full, or in part, as they should. Serving officers and ratings number 322—nearly half the total number of parents—and have no difficulty because they can claim full repayment from the Navy education allowance. They pay nothing. I make no complaint about that repayment. The problem is mainly for the ex-ratings, including the disabled and those invalided out of the Service and also, especially, ratings' widows. After all, these were one of the main objectives of the original charter.
My argument is that these seriously handicapped parents should also pay nothing. Admittedly, they can apply to their local education authority, which may pay part or refuse to pay anything on the grounds that it already provides a full education. The Minister claims that Greenwich Hospital considers all compassionate cases and makes reductions where necessary. What we want is to be told the interpretation of the word "compassionate".
One would expect a rating's widow, obviously the worst off, to be wholly exempt from the fees, but what happens in her case? First, she goes through a means test by her local education authority and gets a part of the fee or not. Then Greenwich Hospital puts the poor woman through another means test—all this at the time of her greatest trouble, when she has lost her husband. The result is that last term 13 of the 64 548 ratings' widows had to contribute to the education of their orphaned sons at the Navy's own orphanage.
The 1966–67 Estimates show that £74,000 is to be obtained this year from fees, mainly from the Naval Education Fund and the local education authorities. What is the position of the widows? One widow is charged £5 per term—£15 per annum—which is included in this £74,000. To me, that is the equivalent of stealing the milk from the baby's bottle. What nonsense it is. This is one of the worst national scandals. On the one hand, we have serving "brass hats" with comparatively good pay themselves, paying nothing, while, on the other, ratings' widows are milked of their meagre pensions and hard-earned wages. I ask the Minister what would be the cost of cancelling these paltry fees for ratings' orphans.
The Minister refused to give the rank of the senior officer with a son at Holbrook. Is it an admiral, with pay of £3,500 per annum and a large pension when he retires? I myself know of one captain, if not more, with a rate of pay for the rank of up to £3,000 per annum with extra allowances, with a son at the school. Does the Minister deny that? Thus, we have ratings' widows with £4 per week pension who have to go out to work and contribute to the £4 million funds while, on the other hand, officers with thousands a year pay nothing.
What a charity. No wonder Greenwich Hospital does not get more applications from ratings' widows—just imagine having to go through two means test—when the Admiralty makes it almost impossible financially for them to get their sons into the school which was founded for them. I will give examples of the Admiralty's treatment of ratings' widows. The first is that of a chief petty officer with 24 years' service. He died on service. Surely this should have meant full entitlement for his widow and his orphan. His widow received a naval widow's pension of £70 per annum and had to pay £70 in school fees. In other words, they took her widow's pension away in order to educate her son.
The second example is that of a petty officer with 12 years' service who died after leaving the Navy so that his widow received the £4 per week pension. She had three young children and was charged 549 £15 per annum for her orphan son at the Navy's own orphanage. The third case is that of a petty officer with 20 years' service who was invalided out—just the type to be catered for—and died shortly afterwards. His widow had six children of school age and was charged £26 a year. No one would credit that this wealthy nautical charity would charge such petty sums to the widows of naval ratings, who had given the best years of their lives to the service of their country, for the education of their orphan sons at the Navy's own orphanage.
The Minister argues that these widows are content to pay. What nonsense. They are content to pay only because they do not know that they should not pay and that officers do not pay. If a widow is told that the fee is £120 per annum, and that the Greenwich Hospital can only make reimbursement up to £105, she is faced with the loaded pistol alternative of having to pay £15 per annum or not having her son at the school. No ratings' widows should ever be placed on the spot by the Admiralty, a public Department. All ratings' widows should have the full fees reimbursed, if not by the local authority then from the £250,000 annual income which makes the Greenwich Hospital such a wealthy charity.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden said nothing about ex-Service ratings. His point is to get more money from the Naval education allowance and, where one cannot get that, to refuse entry. In consequence, it will not only be ratings' orphans but ex-Service men's sons who will not be able to get in.
The reply to the argument about there being more officers and fewer ratings is that one should look at the ratio of officers to ratings. In the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine the ratio of ratings to officers is probably about 100 to 1 and so, on the ratio argument, there should be 100 ratings' sons entered for every officer's son. The more one inquires into it, the crazier are the facts shown to be and the more dishonourable is the Admiralty shown to be in the payment of fees.
The Admiralty policy is clear for all to see. First, it does not want ratings' orphans and only pays lip-service to the entry of such boys—it could otherwise 550 easily get in touch with them and enter more of them. Secondly, it wants to get all sons of serving officers and men in the school in order that their fees will be wholly paid by the naval education allowance, so that the Admiralty can then obtain the full cost of the fees provided which, with additional family commitments, might rise to the full cost of £400 per annum for each boy.
It is obvious that ex-Service ratings and widows will not be able to find the money to pay the fees and that any increase in fees will exclude more and more ex-Service men and widows until entries of boys from such parents are completely extinguished. Yet it was for them that the orphanage was founded. The third aim is to increase the proportion of officers' and to reduce that of ratings' sons. At present, the ratio is about one-third officers' and two-thirds ratings' sons. How long will it be before that is reversed to two-thirds officers' and only one-third ratings' and, finally, all officers' and no ratings' sons?
The Admiralty's ultimate object and the object of the hon. Member for Merton and Morden—and I am glad that he has been here to speak tonight, because he has made it crystal clear—is that the Navy's orphanage for the orphans of ratings should become a fee-paying school for the sons of officers only and a preparatory school for the entry of cadets at the age of 17 or 18 into Dartmouth College. There may be a naval argument for this plan, but certainly not a national one and not one for funds from the Department of Education, as the Minister has argued on previous occasions.
We should then have the main stream of entry of officers from one source to the exclusion of other schools with a variety of types and education. This would put the Navy back into the old Dartmouth College entry system when cadets were limited to those of 12 or 13 years of age from preparatory schools. This outdated scheme received its first blow in 1912, from Sir Winston Churchill, as a Liberal First Lord of the Admiralty, with the special entry system of 17 to 18 year-old entrants which, since the last war, has become the main system. An officers' sons only school may not come in my time, but come it will as surely as night follows day. 551 In his reply to last year's debates on the Estimates the Minister said:I know that my hon. and gallant Friend feels passionately about this matter—he has shown it in this House and we all understand it…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th October, 1965; Vol. 718, c. 574.]Who would not feel passionately with my knowledge of the old school and the poor boys who were entered and of the fact that in the 33 years of this "posh" new school at Holbrook more than 10,000 ratings' sons, including thousands of orphans, have not been entered who would have been entered at Greenwich.
That is a measure of the scandal of this orphanage—the fact that a poor boy of humble birth like myself would not today be accepted and allowed to mix with the comparatively well-off officers' sons. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, like the Minister, who does not really understand what poverty means. I was the son of a rating and I was an orphan, and I have known poverty.
In every other debate on social services one of the main arguments from both sides of the House is on behalf of the widows and the orphans. This Greenwich Hospital debate is the only one in which the Ministry and the authorities and the responsible Minister argue against the widows and the orphans and do all they can to prevent them from receiving their full entitlements from this ancient and wealthy nautical charity.
As long as I am here I will fight the Admiralty and expose these scandals and argue for the increased entry of seamen's sons, particularly orphans, into my old school and that no fees should be paid by ratings' widows. When I am gone, I hope that others will continue the fight against what is one of the greatest national charity scandals of the century.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
We all respect the great interest of the old watchdog in this problem, the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey). We know from many debates the interest which he takes and his great knowledge. If he will forgive me, I will not follow the issues which he raised, which would be better dealt with by his hon. Friend the Minister. We all respect the very great work which the hon. and 552 gallant Gentleman puts into preparing his speeches, and I am sure that we shall continue to listen with interest to his arguments and to see that this great school remains predominantly for the sons of ratings. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) is now on the management committee of the school and able to take part in the debate today.
I want to limit myself to several questions especially about the accounts. I have been interested in the school for some time, because I have a number of constituents who have been educated there. I was a little disappointed that the Minister did not give us rather more details about the educational progress made at the school, particularly as there has been a slight change in the system, and also about its sporting achievements.
One of the things which sometimes worries me about the school is that it is rather cut off, rather far away. I understand that there is contact between the school and H.M.S. "Ganges", but I would like to know what contacts the boys have with outside organisations. It is essential for pupils in boarding schools to have some outside social contacts. Do the boys go to theatres and are they occasionally allowed to go to the cinema, for instance? Do they go to Portsmouth or to other places where there are ships as the school is predominantly for those whom we would like to encourage to enter the Royal Navy? What instruction do they get? Do they spend some time on board ships? Are they invited to go to sea, and do they visit the Royal Dockyards? All of that would be a great advantage to them if they planned to join the Navy.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that no entrants had been failed on medical grounds and none on interview for entry. Is that accurate? If so, is the educational standard rather too high if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is correct in what he says about the numbers of boys who have been rejected? Perhaps we can be told how the education standards compare with those of other State schools. Can we be told how many O-levels have been gained by boys and how many A-levels, and how the Sixth D form is progressing and what is the average age at which the boys leave their schools? I raise this last 553 point because it appears that a lot of pupils leave at a rather younger age than I would have thought desirable.
I have been in contact with the Minister about the provision of fares for visitors. Some of the boys come from rather financially poor homes, and I want to know what encouragement is given to their parents or relations to visit them, and what provision is made for the boys about fares for going to and from home. I have written to the Minister about this over one case in which I was particularly interested, but I would like to know what the general attitude is to the payment of fares. Are the boys asked whether they can afford the fares, and do their parents have to fill in a form, or can they get a railway voucher to go home?
Dealing with the accounts, my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden remarked upon the revenue from property in the statement of income and expenditure of the Greenwich Hospital. I see that this is to be considerably increased in 1966–67. Might not this be an overestimate? Will the Minister be allowed to put up the rents during the period of freeze or restraint? Are the Government to allow to put up rents when other people are not allowed to put up prices? If they are not, then the figure of £17,650 may be an over-estimate. On page 3 we note that the amount to be spent on Greenwich Hospital pensions to officers and grants towards the education of children is to fall by £1,500. The other grants, on the same page, to the Greenwich Hospital pensions for seamen and marines are to go down by £200. As there are fewer people requiring pensions than I would have thought, it was not very considerate to cut down pensions.
The cost of living has gone up, and although the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has said that a lot of the people do not need the pensions, I beg to differ. I have found that a number of my constituents would welcome this pension. The £200 should at least be spent on increasing their pensions if there are fewer applications.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden referred to the rent of buildings lent to the Royal Naval College, and I have previously raised the same point in other debates. I am glad to say that in one case it was considered 554 and the rent raised. Can the Minister say what kind of property the Ministry is investing in? It is estimated that there will be increased rents from this type of property, and can he say whether the rents will be increased?
Page 5 deals with pensions to seamen, which are to be decreased. I hope that the Minister will consider changing this and if there are less pensioners, will give them some extra help. If we look at the cost of the Royal Hospital we note that the provisions for water, heating and lighting have gone up and repairs and maintenance are down. The day-to-day running is going to be more expensive, and I would have thought that that proved that the people receiving their pensions would need additional help.
I would like to raise a point about the 1964–65 accounts. It says on page 3 that stocks sold during the year had resulted in a net loss of over £112,000.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I am dealing with the accounts for 1964–65. There has been this considerable loss. On the next page one sees that the market value of the British Government securities is falling. I presume that this is mainly because of the likelihood of a fall in the securities. I realise that certain charities are tied in the manner that they can invest, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell me whether this applies in this case. If not, it seems that the investments need looking into to see whether we cannot obtain stocks which would not result in such a loss.
There is also the question of loans outstanding. What are these loans for and what interest is being paid to the Hospital? These accounts do not give us very much detail when we are considering the cost of the school and how we can best help the running of it. It would be helpful to have some further details. On page 7 one sees the estimated expenditure to officers and contributions towards children's education was £21,500 last year, while the actual expenditure was £16,019.
The same is true of the next item dealing with Greenwich Hospital pensions. Was this an over-estimate or have the 555 people had a cut in their pensions or in the contributions towards their childrens' education? I notice that this includes the Canada educational grant, and we ought to spend this to the full because it is given for the benefit of this school.
I welcome this debate, and I am not really in agreement with my hon. Friend on the Front Bench. This is the only chance that we have of putting forward our views, unless we have it on the Naval Estimates debate. We have learned in the past a good deal from the speeches of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I would like to end on a rather feminine point. I hope that one day we may have a woman on the management committee. I have been to the school and I came back with certain suggestions with regard to studies and other matters. I am glad to say that interest was shown in my proposals and certain action taken. Therefore, I hope that in the distant future, when the appointment of further people to the management committee is being considered, this point will be taken into consideration.
The Minister has had a lot of bricks thrown at him, but I should like to pay tribute to him, not only for the way in which he always answers these debates, but for the fact that he has served on the management committee for a number of years and has done his level best to bring the school up to its present standard.
I should like to make a final point to the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East. With better education, men get promotion in the Navy far more quickly than they used to do, and we should be pleased that this is so. One must not be too critical about officer's sons, because many of the officers have risen from the ranks and do not have any capital behind them. Many of them have had the difficulty of buying their own homes and keeping up a standard which probably their parents did not have to maintain. Is shows progress when a number of these men who have risen from the ranks are anxious for their sons to attend the school.
§ Commander Pursey
Would the hon. Lady accept my point that the officers can send their sons to any school in the country and get the fees from the local 556 education authority and pay nothing out of their own pockets? My argument is that this school should be wholly reserved for the sons of ratings, particularly ex-Service ratings, and those who are not in a position to get anything from the naval educational fund and consequently are in a far worse position than the officers.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
I do not quite agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman because most local authorities take into consideration the income of the individual before giving a grant. We should be very pleased that these men are anxious for their sons to follow in their footsteps. Anything that we can do to help them we should do. We should be proud when men who have risen from the ranks are anxious that their sons shall have a better opportunity than they did and want them to go to a naval school and continue the naval tradition of the family.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu
I thank the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) for the things she said about my service on the management committee. I should have liked to be able to reciprocate by saying that the moment there is a vacancy on the committee she shall have it. Unfortunately, appointments to the committee are nothing whatever to do with me. That is a matter for the House. I have no doubt that, in view of the great interest in the school shown by hon. Members, and particularly by the hon. Lady, this will be borne very much in mind when the time comes to make a further appointment.
I wish that I could answer all the hon. Lady's questions. I suspect that one or two of them were out of order, because they were on the accounts and not on the estimates. Therefore, I cannot deal with those. But I will do my best to reply in writing to such points as she raised which I cannot answer now.
The hon. Lady asked about the educational progress of the school. The figures for 1965 were very satisfactory. One hundred and twenty-two boys gained 55 subject passes at advanced level and 353 at ordinary level. This was, I understand, a considerable advance on the 557 previous year. I am told that this year's results will be even better. I do not wish to steal the headmaster's thunder on that.
On the investment side, I understand that the increases which we expect from rents will come from a switch in properties, to a large extent, to leasehold where the rents are already higher. It is not a question of increasing rents. Certainly we are not getting exemption from any Rent Act. I gather that a higher rent is obtained from leasehold property.
The hon. Lady made an interesting point about the school being cut off. It is geographically a bit cut off from some of the main centres. All boarding schools are cut off even if they are in the main centres—or they used to be. As the hon. Lady knows, we have very close relations with H. M.S. "Ganges". A fair amount of visiting—Navy days, and so on—is done. But to me the most interesting thing is the interchange of visits between our school and a local girls' school for dances, and so on. This is something which in years gone by would have been very much frowned on. It is not now. It is very much encouraged. It gives enormous delight, both to the girls and boys, and increases their education.
I now turn with immense regret to the speech which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) has inflicted upon the House for the 20th time. It is becoming an absolute abuse of Parliament procedure when, year after year on these Estimates, we have to listen to the same speech, which in no way shows any recognition of the arguments that have been put. He goes on and on and on about the nautical orphanage or the naval orphanage as though it were exclusively a school for orphans. It was not under the original charter, and it is not now. I wish that I could make my hon. and gallant Friend understand the harm that he has been doing in recent years by these misstatements of what the school is about.
Orphans have priority. Not a single orphan who is not educationally subnormal has ever been kept out by an officer's son. Any orphan who is qualified for the school has so far been accepted unless he has been educationally subnormal. But the school is not only for orphans. Even in the old charter that is 558 made clear, as my hon. and gallant Friend showed when he read from it. He not only made the same speech as he made last year; he made most of my speech in repetition. He quoted the article explaining on what basis the school was founded, which provided that it was forthe maintenance and education of the children of seamen happening to be slain or disabled in such sea service.A disabled man is not killed; he is disabled, and his children are not orphans. But they are entitled to go to the school.
I have had experience of the effect that my hon. and gallant Friend's tirade has had on some of the boys. A rating's son was tackled when he returned to the school from his holidays by a woman who thought that my hon. and gallant Friend knew what he was talking about, who said, "You have no right to be in this school. It is disgraceful that you have kept out orphans." The boy was seriously upset. That is the sort of thing that my hon. and gallant Friend is doing, and it is absolutely intolerable.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
Every single question that was put by my hon. and gallant Friend this year was put last year, and answered.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
He comes here now wallowing in emotive tears about the hardship that widows are suffering. After the last debate, I begged him to let me have examples of anybody who was suffering hardship, because we were determined that no hardship should be suffered. I received no reply. I wrote to him again, and got no reply. I wrote to him four or five times more, but he did not reply once—because I do not believe that he could find any widow who, through the operation of the scheme of entry, was suffering hardship. If he has such information, instead of sounding off in the House, why does not he write, not to me, because I am no longer the chairman, but to my noble Friend, Lord Winterbottom, outlining the cases and giving details. Let him find anyone in respect of whom there is even a suggestion of hardship and we shall do our best to make sure that the situation is put right. 559 But he does not do that. All he does is to sound off and try to make the headlines.
§ Commander Pursey
Does my right hon. Friend deny that these widows are being charged the fees that I have quoted? I do not want to pursue the argument at this stage any further, but abuse does not answer questions. I have given my right hon. Friend cases, and there has been no answer. I have given the names of the people. I have given him particulars of rejections and the names of orphans, and of everyone.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I have not got the names of any of them—unless they are the same as the names last year, which I dealt with fully in last year's debate.
Just one example has been put up today. I have not been sent the details, and I do not know them, but, as I have said, if my hon. and gallant Friend will have the decency, instead of sounding off like this without warning, to send detailed cases to us, I guarantee that we will make certain that no hardship is suffered.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Humphrey Atkins) asked a number of questions, to some of which I hope to be able to reply. One, which has crossed the minds of many of us from time to time, is whether we should not consider abandoning these debates in the House. I may say that, at times, when I get angry with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East, I have the greatest temptation to agree, but that would involve us in legislation, and I do not think that there is much chance of getting that put through, in any timetable. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport that it is good for the House of Commons to turn its mind directly to a specific school rather than speak in generalisations about education.
The hon. Member for Merton and Morden asked two questions about the 560 rent for Greenwich College. The actual basis on which we charge the rent, I understand, is an independent valuation of what it is worth from time to time, and the rent is charged accordingly. His main point, however, was that there are variations in the rent which is paid. This is a pure accident. In one year, I think, it had to do with the fact that someone's office was moved and only three quarters were payable in one year and five quarters in the next. The rate of rent remained the same.
I believe that that will happen again, that a computer will be installed and that we will get the rent only on the day that the computer says. The total amount of rent payable is the same, but it depends on the number of payments made during the year.
The hon. Member asked some detailed questions to which I am not able to give immediate replies, but, as with the hon. Lady, I will see that he gets the answers in writing. He mentioned the possibility of differential fees and, I believe, was thinking particularly of the serving officers and ratings who get the educational allowances. It is true' that the naval education allowance—which went up in December and is higher than the figure which he gave—more than covers any fees which we charge.
However, if we were to charge them a higher fee, and raised the fee of £120 to £150 or £200, the parents concerned would unfortunately have to pay Income Tax on it. This is a taxable allowance and might cause some hardship in certain circumstances. There is a further point, that this is taxpayers' money and I am not sure that it would be carefully safeguarded. At any rate, this is something which we might consider, because it is obvious from the Estimates which I present to the House now that there will be financial difficulty unless something can be done. I very much hope that changes in investments and the skill of our panel will help us to increase incomes in that way.
If that does not happen, it will be impossible to go ahead with the still further developments in the school which we want to see. We have had reference to Form 6D. That is going well. Boys are staying not only for one year more but for two years more, and the tendency is to stay longer still—which will involve 561 an E form, with extra staff, all very much an educational service but, unhappily, all costing money. I can assure the House that during the coming year the management committee and Greenwich Hospital generally will do everything that possibly can be done to increase the income of the Foundation so that the school, which is going so well, will continue to do well and will further improve.
May I once again repeat to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East: if he can produce any single instance of anybody who is suffering a hardship through having to pay his fees, and if he will bring the case to me, I will look at it and see that it is put right. But he has failed to do so in the past and, because of the very reasonable way in which the fees are charged, I suspect that he will be equally incapable of doing so now.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
That rate of pension is not being cut. Indeed, there is a possibility that in one way the rates of pension may go up. They were held by the disregard at 15s. That has been increased to £1. It may be possible to consider making some increase in that 15s. to, say, 16s. or so. But I cannot give any definite assurance at present. It is being looked at by the accountants. We do not know the size of the problem. But there is certainly no question of a cut.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Statement of the Estimated Income and Expenditure of Greenwich Hospital and Travers' Foundation, for the year ending on 31st March 1967, which was laid before this House on 23rd May, be approved.